Paul Before the Sanhedrin: Part 4 of 4 (Lessons on Acts)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

10 And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle.

With the members of the Sanhedrin now taking sides and perhaps even coming to blows, nothing more was to be gained from the inquiry. So ended any hope the Tribune might have had of getting to the bottom of the matter by legal, rational, and sensible means. Note, the Roman official in command on this occasion is called “the chief captain.” This shows that the Tribune was not present and he had placed a subordinate in command. The Roman commander must have become convinced of two things. First, that the Jews would not be able to reach a rational decision on the matter; and secondly, that the dispute was, at its core, a religious one. But one who could cause so much trouble could not easily be released. Indeed, Paul’s position now was even more perilous than before. With both factions seizing him and pulling him this way and that, he was in imminent danger of being torn in two. The Tribune gave the nod to his men, and a detachment of soldiers plunged into the mob to rescue Paul: his prisoner, whom he should guard with his life. Whereas Lysias’s original seizing of Paul could be seen as an arrest (21:33), this time there is no doubt the Tribune served as his protector. The apostle was once more taken into custody and made safe in the Antonia. The site of the council chamber favored by most scholars today (based especially on Josephus) adjoins the temple on the southwest, perhaps a third of a mile from the fortress Antonia, where the Roman garrison was billeted.

Proverbs 16:9 reads, “In his heart a man plans his course, the Lord determines his steps.” Paul’s situation was bleak. His fellow Jews wanted to kill him. The Romans thought he was a revolutionary and arrested him. He was a victim of lies and violence. Distressed and discouraged by two unwarranted dreadful scenes on two consecutive days, the apostle must have felt as though the world had caved in on him. There seemed hardly any chance that Paul’s dream to witness in Rome would come true, yet the Lord remained sovereign. In the midst of his despair and melancholy state of mind, the Lord appeared to him in a vision (v. 11) during the night and gave him courage. His long-desired trip to Rome was still to be a reality. The Lord revealed in the vision that Paul would witness for him in Rome just as he had testified in Jerusalem.

One More Thing!

By the time of Luke’s writing of Acts, the high priest Ananias has indeed been “struck,” assassinated in a.d. 66, according to Josephus. The Sadducees have ceased to exist as authorities, having lost their power base with the destruction of the temple by the Romans in a.d. 70. This leaves the Pharisees, the current leaders of formative Judaism, as the most important figures for Luke’s readers. They emerge in this episode not so much as defenders of Paul but rather as men acting in bad will. Though they accept “the resurrection of the dead” as a hope, they resist Paul’s testimony that the hoped-for resurrection has already begun concretely in Jesus of Nazareth.

It is this, rather than Paul’s legal guilt or innocence that will remain the issue for the remainder of the book. It is really the gospel that is on trial. In the context of the narrative, Paul’s focus on the resurrection makes it clear to the Roman Tribune (the most important auditor of this hearing) that the charges against Paul are Jewish matters, nothing of concern to the imperial government.

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